Northern Ireland

Catholic school to face legal action over Irish language ‘discrimination’

Mother of 10-year-old launches challenge

St Joseph’s College on the Ravenhill Road Belfast.
St Joseph’s College on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

A Belfast secondary school is facing legal action over claims that it has discriminated against a child because she attends an Irish language primary.

The action has been taken against St Joseph’s College on Ravenhill Road by a parent on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter who attends Scoil an Droichid, on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast.

Part of the planned judicial review hinges on St Joseph’s not including Scoil an Droichid as a feeder school in its published admissions criteria.

Although located on Ravenhill Road, St Joseph’s takes pupils from a wide catchment area. As the only Catholic post-primary non grammar school in south and east Belfast, it is oversubscribed annually.

Last year it received 225 applications for 150 Year 8 places.

In the event of the number of applications exceeding its admission number, the board of governors applies tie-breaking criteria. Pupils who attend feeder Catholic primary schools are given preference.

It has now been suggested that St Joseph’s has “unlawfully discriminated against the applicant on the basis of their education through the medium of the Irish language”.

It has also been claimed that the applicant “as a Catholic” who was baptised in, and continues to live in, a “feeder parish” for the school, “is not being considered for a place” at St Joseph’s “behind non-Catholic applicants”.

Solicitor Michael Brentnall, of Brentnall Legal, sets out that a “central allegation” is that St Joseph’s published admission criteria “unjustifiably exclude applicant who attends an Irish language primary school despite its close proximity to the secondary school”.

St Joseph’s College on the Ravenhill Road Belfast.

Mr Brentnall said his client has been treated differently because she attends an Irish language school.

“Our client has been effectively disenfranchised from attending her local secondary school due to the fact that she is educated through the medium of Irish, and the gaelscoil she attends is not deemed a feeder school for the purposes of the school’s admissions criteria,” he said.

“Whilst the gaelscoil is geographically closer to the school than other non-Irish medium schools who are deemed feeder schools, the fact the gaelscoil is not deemed a feeder school effectively rules out admission for an applicant due to significantly high demand for places.

“Invariably the discrimination and the refusal to list the school as a feeder school appears to be based on the fact that the child attends an Irish language primary school.”

St Joseph’s College was contacted.